What comes to mind when you hear the term “classical education”? Do you envision an orchestra serenading your child while they do their school work? Maybe not a bad idea, but no. What about the Trivium? “The what?” you say. The trivium – it’s really just a fancy word for classical education, but the word itself captures one of its core principles. Trivium means “the three ways” or “the three roads” in Latin.
The philosophy of classical education holds that the formal education of a child takes place over three stages – the grammar, logic and rhetoric stages. These three stages work together with the goal of producing adults who can take in information, analyze it critically and rationally, and apply that information to the world around them.
While classical education has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks, it has recently enjoyed a renewed interest within the homeschooling community. Along with this come new children whose minds are wide open and willing to absorb massive amounts of information. That is what the grammar stage is all about.
The grammar stage is the first stage of a classical education and covers kindergarten through grade four. During this stage, children are exposed to the knowledge and taught the skills they will need to succeed in the next two stages.
So, by now you may be thinking this all sounds good in theory, but how do I successfully guide a child through this very important stage? How do I plan my child’s curriculum during these years?
Even though history is not a cornerstone subject of the grammar stage, subjects like reading, writing, grammar and science use the divisions of history in classical education to set forth the material studied in each given year. Classical education divides history into four parts:
- Ancients (5000BC – 400AD)
- Medieval/Early Renaissance (400-1600AD)
- Late Renaissance/Early Modern (1600-1850AD)
- Modern (1850 – Present)
The goal of introducing history to children in the grammar stage is not to force a complete memorization of dates and events in history, but to peak their curiosity and impress upon them that our world was, and is not, a series of isolated events to be learned in a random order.
Using history, children also discover great works of art, music, and literature from which they can pull out the tools necessary to navigate the logic and rhetoric stages. For example, a child in the third year of the grammar stage would be studying the “Late Renaissance/Early Modern” period of history. They could practice their handwriting and dictation skills using passages from the French fairy tales of Charles Perrault or put their memory and public speaking skills to the test by memorizing and reciting part of a poem by William Wordsworth. Reading and narration could be practiced by taking on an adapted version of Robinson Crusoe and writing a summary.
Besides using great works from history, structured programs for spelling, grammar and writing are also used. These programs break the mechanics of English grammar and writing down into small parts that help children develop their skills slowly without overwhelming them. A structured math program is also used to teach math skills.
Science is also divided into four parts to complement the divisions of history. Children study biology in their first year, earth science and astronomy in their second, chemistry in their third and physics in their fourth. As with history, the goal of presenting science to a young child is not to expect an all encompassing knowledge base by the end of the grammar stage, but to ignite a curiosity about how the world works around them.
Since there is no shortage of works throughout history, the study of art and music is also paired with the divisions of history. A child studying the Medieval/Early Renaissance period could study the works of Raphael and other artists of his time, along with the techniques used in their works. An appreciation of art is instilled by looking at and studying art pieces themselves.
A child studying the Modern period could study the lives and works of composers like Claude Debussy. The study of an instrument is also recommended as an important addition to the musical education of a child.
One of the things setting a classical education apart from other educational philosophies is the teaching of Latin to a child. Children generally begin Latin about half-way through the grammar stage. Even though this language is no longer considered a living language, knowledge of Latin helps to cement the concepts learned in their grammar program.
Besides Latin, it is recommended a child studies a modern language as well. In today’s global community, knowing a second, or even a third language, can give a person an advantage in many different industries. Even looking at the ever-widening diversity of the population here in the United States, being multi-lingual is becoming increasingly important.
If this all sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. There are a lot of good resources on the market for helping you navigate through the development of your child’s grammar stage curriculum. One of the leading resources for parents wishing to give their child a classical education is The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. This very thick book serves as a “how-to” guide for parents who want to implement a classical education at home. Another great source is Teaching the Trivium by Harvey Bluedorn. These authors of these two books are recognized authorities on classical education at home.
Classically educating your child does not need to be scary or overwhelming. It is simply a philosophy whose aim is to train children in the three ways to reach adulthood with the ability to take in information, critically analyze it and apply that information to the world around them. The grammar stage is just the first step on this journey through history and to the future. You’ll be amazed at what your child will learn – you just may learn something yourself!